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Virtual Study Abroad: UIW Students in US, Mexico Partner to Launch Free-Trade Startup

Students at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) sold handmade crafts from the indigenous Chicimeca people of Mexico on campus Thursday, April 29, 2021, as part of a partnership made possible through the University’s innovative new virtual study abroad program.

UIW students selling handmade crafts from the indigenous Chicimeca people of MexicoSan Antonio – Students at the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) will be selling handmade crafts from the indigenous Chicimeca people of Mexico on campus Thursday, April 29, 2021, as part of a partnership made possible through the University’s innovative new virtual study abroad program.

Students from UIW in San Antonio and UIW Campus Bajío in Irapuato, Mexico, attended class together virtually during the Spring 2021 semester – a first for the University. With help from local organizations and mentors on both sides of the border, students established working relationships with the indigenous Chicimeca people, who reside in the present-day Bajío region of Mexico, to acquire, transport and sell their handmade artisan goods in the United States while maintaining fair-trade standards.

The ongoing pandemic has limited the ability for students to travel for study abroad, but this innovative new effort by faculty has given students the opportunity to regain the shared cultural experiences of travel and education.

The Startup Models Beyond Borders class teaches students the steps and processes involved in creating, funding and operating a startup business in emerging markets. Additionally, the class gave students the experiential learning opportunity of launching their own startup with the help of mentors and community partners in the U.S. and Mexico.

To launch their startup projects, each team of students received $1,500 in funding through the UIW Office of the Provost. Capitalizing on the business connections made to the Chicimeca community, students purchased handmade artisan products such as musical instruments and figurines. Teams then arranged for the packing and shipping of the products across the border, where they have been sold to consumers in the United States.

"One of our objectives was to help connect people from the indigenous communities to the global economy. These groups do not have formalized businesses, which limits their participation in the global economy,” said Dr. Adesegun Oyedele, an associate professor of international business and marketing at UIW’s H-E-B School of Business and Administration.

"Our goal as a team is to share the Chichimecas story," junior international business student Pilar Romero said. "We are not just selling a product; we are allocating the community's life and rich culture to a different society. The effort to create this startup business with the indigenous community aligns with all five values of the University of the Incarnate Word: education, faith, truth, service and innovation."

Students will be selling the indigenous handmade crafts at the University of the Incarnate Word campus on Thursday, April 29, 2021, from 12 – 3 p.m. The booth will be set up just outside the Student Engagement Center.